For Peter Fanucchi it all began in 1972 at the ripe old age of 9 years working beside his father Arcangelo, a new vineyard owner at the time, who purchased a very old vineyard property in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley on Wood Road in Fulton, California. Peter and his father quickly became friends with their veteran wine grape growing neighbors who very graciously taught them traditional viticulture methods which they rigorously employed on the circa 1906 Zinfandel vineyard. They took their lessons very seriously and they studied the art of wine grape growing intensely. As a result of their studies, they began integrating modern viticultural methodologies gathered from a wide array of periodicals to experts into the vineyard along with the astute lessons learned from their legendary neighbors and most importantly observing how it the cultural practices effected the vines in their specific environment on Wood Road.
As with traditional “field blend” vineyard plantings employed by most Italian growers of the late 19’th century, the Fanucchi’s vineyard was no exception. Planted amongst the Zinfandel vines were vines of different varietals one of which was Trousseau Gris. They discovered it thrived in their vineyard so after purchasing the fallow land next door to their property in 1981 the Fanucchi’s planted it.
Unfortunately, in 1984 just a few weeks before their first significant harvest of Trousseau Gris, Peter’s father died suddenly. It is indeed unfortunate that he was unable to experience the maiden harvest but Peter knows he would be very proud of the result today. It has been their keen ability to marry the uniqueness of the “terroir” of the vineyard, the incredibly hearty nature of the vines, the insightful lessons of their veteran neighbors and the insight from all of the lessons learned over the years that has made the Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard the incredible success that it is today.
Peter, along side his father, was a keen observer. All the knowledge that his father gained transitioned to Peter because he was a great listener & observer. Peter has assertively employed his learnings and he has spent decades enhancing the viticultural foundation that his father, friends and neighbors bestowed upon him. His extreme attention to detail manifests itself in the vineyard, in the reputation of the vineyard and, most importantly, in the highly acclaimed wines he and others have produced from his wine grapes.
Passion & Faith
If one were to spend any time watching Peter tend to his “children” (he is often accused of having names for each of the vines!), one will quickly and easily notice his instinct, talent, & passion to grow great Old Vine Zinfandel & Trousseau Gris. Peter’s motto is “growing in harmony with nature” which, simply put, means growing incredible wine grapes in the most earth friendly enviroment. This phrase resides on each and every bottle of wine he produces and his entire being is zeroed in on living this motto. Peter is not a certified organic grower but virtually the only thing lacking is the completion of the reams of paperwork (and money!) required to gain the certification.
In the mid 1980’s the popular wisdom about the Old Zinfandel & Trousseau Gris was that they were not worth farming especially since, at that time, grape prices were very low, there was glut of grapes, many wineries were merging &/or going bankrupt, the economy was poor & imports were cheaper. Criticisms were that his revitalization efforts would only “kill the vineyard faster”, that “great Zinfandel doesn’t grow in Russian River Valley”, and that “it probably has many diseases that will continue to lower production & kill vines”. Most thought it best to replant the Old Vine Zinfandel and, for the Trousseau Gris, they said at best it was a blending grape (at the time so was Merlot) because they assumed the skins made it a bitter wine. What Peter discovered was that the bitterness was due to the fact that the thick Trousseau Gris grape releases less juice than was common so winemakers would just press it harder, much harder, to get more juice yield which made the wine bitter. Not understanding that the excessive pressing extracted the bitterness from deep inside the seeds, they often harvested it at very low maturity / sugar levels then said it had no character and flavor! (Ever taste "green"; totally un-ripe fruit? mmm!) To this day, even the revised editions of the most famous wine varital guides, which are now often reproduced and quoted by license on the World Wide Web, repeat this obvious mistake!
Even in light of all this adversity, most considered his actions “crazy”, Peter started retraining the old, very low vines on salvaged, slightly short & broken, stakes left over (or recycled) from the Trousseau Gris planting. He was extremely conservative, making sure that he wasn’t over taxing any vine that he retrained. He disbudded new arms so they wouldn’t over crop, only did a small section per year, & constantly revised his techniques. With these Zinfandel vines, which are dry farmed (not irrigated), he implemented a strict, mostly old style, tilling regimen that preserved the moisture for the summer (normally the vineyard experiences no rain from about mid spring to mid fall).
It is common, in old vineyards, to find bushy vines of fruitless root stock. The Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard had its share of these bushy vines. The textbooks taught that these “bushy” vines were most likely to be left after the vine tops died because they had a disease that killed the scion. It was believed that one should absolutely never try to re-graft these vines. Well, Peter also knew that, since the old vines were so low to the ground, often the tops were broken by vineyard equipment aka “tractor blight”. He made the extra effort to save these 100+ year old plants by cleaning up the messy looking bushes and re-grafting Zinfandel on to the original plants which brought back most if not all of them!
After a few years of employing his “crazy” practices, growers young & old from all over the wine region began visiting to taking a close look & learn what he was doing, soon they were following some of his practices such as training the old vines on a stake to raise them from ankle height to shoulder height, spreading compost & minerals. Today nearly all the Old Zinfandel vineyards on Wood Road have been retrained, all have employed at least some of his “crazy” things he started doing. In addition, all (yes 100%!) of the Old Zinfandel produced from Wood Road goes into specially designated wines, is highly sought after by wineries & consumers, and regularly receives the highest awards & accolades from the most well known critics & competitions.
To this very day, Peter continues to personally attend to the entire Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard vine by vine. He constantly adapts his farming practices to the current vine & environmental conditions sometimes doing things that even he would previously have thought were absurd all because the conditions require it. With thoughtful reasoning (gut instinct actually!!) he continues to produce wine grapes and wine of the highest quality. It truly is a labor of love full of passion and yes…………faith. Remember….he is dealing with Mother Nature after all!!
left: 1980 Peter Fanucchi standing in the Old Zinfandel, in the distance a beautiful Old Oak tree was soon to fall, and the Trousseau Gris would be planted in that area.
right: 2009 Peter Fanucchi standing in same spot in the Old Zinfandel…